One third of all participants of the controversial ParentsNext program had their payments suspended and more than 1000 had it cancelled altogether, leaving some unable to meet the “basic needs” of their children, according to a humans rights committee report.
The program, which requires parents of small children to participate in activities such as swimming lessons and playgroups or risk having their welfare payments cut off, also had a disproportionate impact on Indigenous Australians.
Nationals MP Dr Anne Webster said the program disproportionately affected Indigenous women. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
Indigenous parents made up about 21 per cent of current ParentsNext participants despite comprising just 3.3 per cent of the population.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights recommended the compulsory program, which makes mothers feel like “societal lepers” according to one submission, be made voluntary.
Evidence to the inquiry showed “the inability of some participants to meet their basic needs (including paying for food, rent and medical appointments) where their payments were suspended, reduced or cancelled”.
“In addition, it appears that no formal or informal assessment of a person’s capacity to meet their basic needs (or those of their children) is undertaken before their parenting payment is suspended, reduced or cancelled,” the report noted.
The aim of the ParentsNext program is to help eligible parents prepare for employment by the time their youngest child reaches school age.
It has been in place since 2012 but was rolled out nationally in 2018.
Since then, more than 55,000 parents have received 159,000 suspensions, lasting an average of five days on each occasion.
Payments are suspended when a “mutual obligation failure” occurs.
The suspension and cancellation of payments are administered through an electronic system and parts of it are automated.
Once a person’s parenting payment is cancelled, he or she must wait 28 days before re-applying for it, meaning some parents with small children are left without an income for over a month.
The Department of Education, Skills and Employment said the program helped “more than 160,000 parents to work towards their education and employment goals, including assisting more than 72,000 parents to commence education and 38,500 to start employment”.
A 2018 internal evaluation of the program found “participants had significantly higher rates of wellbeing, more positive views about work, and higher rates of work, study and child care usage”.
However, the majority of the 39 submissions to the inquiry had a contrary view.
Economic Justice Australia noted that of the parents who participated in ParentsNext since 2018, only three per cent exited the program as a result of finding stable employment.
Mission Australia (a ParentsNext provider) told the inquiry the mutual obligation approach “failed to treat people with dignity and risks people withdrawing from government services altogether and being forced into poverty and homelessness”.
Dr Eve Vincent, who conducted a research project into the program, told the inquiry that many women hoped for support in a firm goal, such as obtaining their driving license, but left their appointments “dispirited because their own goals had been redirected into often absurd arrangements”.
For example, signing a participation plan to attend a playgroup they already attended.
“In effect, all that happened was that a layer of surveillance was added to their lives,” Dr Vincent said.
Other submissions “argued that ParentsNext unfairly devalued the role of parenting and unpaid caring responsibilities, and stigmatises mothers”.
Dr Ann Nevile and Dr Katherine Curchin of the Australian National University noted in their submission that the high proportion of women in the program who had suffered family violence.
“Adding this coercive element to a program specifically aimed at a vulnerable group of (overwhelmingly) young women, many of whom have experienced feelings of helplessness and disempowerment in their personal lives, significantly reduces the likelihood of the program achieving its stated goals,” they said.
A spokesperson for Employment Minister Stuart Robert said: “ParentsNext is a program that is working and a vital element of ParentsNext is the connection and referral to a range of support services for parents and their family.”
The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.
Most Viewed in Politics
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article